Updated on January 3, 2019. Medical content reviewed by Dr. Richard Koffler, MD, Board Certified Physiatrist
The term “ataxia” can refer to a disorder on its own or a symptom of a neurodegenerative disease like multiple sclerosis. When you have ataxia, your cerebellum degenerates, affecting your muscle coordination. The cerebellum damage not only affects your mobility, but it also makes it harder to process information, talk and see.
Ataxia and its related disorders currently have no cure. So, treatment must center around reducing ataxia symptoms. Some folks use medical marijuana to improve their motor function and reduce muscle spasms, and many patients who treat their ataxia with cannabis medicine gain a higher quality of life.
Lotan et al. observed the effects of cannabis on patients with motor and non-motor symptoms related to Parkinson’s disease. Previous trials had conflicting results, so they wanted to collect more data to add to the knowledge researchers had. One of the motor symptoms of Parkinson’s disease is ataxia.
The team worked with 22 Parkinson’s patients who attended a motor disorder clinic. They evaluated the participants before smoking cannabis and 30 minutes after smoking. To measure the severity of the patients’ symptoms, they used a wide variety of scales related to Parkinson’s symptoms, pain and cannabis.
Cannabis significantly improved the patients’ scores on a scale measuring motor-related Parkinson’s symptoms — in particular, it relieved tremors and slowness of movement. It also lessened other health issues like pain and sleep problems. The team found no major side effects happening to the patients. So, they concluded that cannabis treatment for Parkinson’s warranted larger studies.
Zajicek et al. monitored the long-term effects of cannabinoids on patients with multiple sclerosis. They had previously conducted a 15-week study where patients received cannabinoid treatment. Then, they ran a 12-month follow-up to determine how the cannabinoids helped the patients for a longer period. The team documented the entire process in a second paper.
The original study involved 630 patients, 502 of which — or 80% — received assessments. When asked if they wanted to continue their treatment after the main trial, 355 — or 56% — agreed. Zajicek et al. mainly evaluated the patients using the Ashworth spasticity scale, but they also used many other metrics like the UK Neurological Disability Score.
Patients who received either synthetic THC or a combination of THC and CBD felt the treatment helped their spasticity. But, only the THC treatment resulted in an improvement on the Ashworth scale. In the long-term, many patients saw improvement in mobility and spasms. The team didn’t discount the patients’ opinion that both kinds of medicine helped, and urged further research on cannabis medicine for Parkinson’s.
Klumpers et al. investigated the mechanics behind a synthetic cannabinoid called Namisol. They wanted to understand its pharmacodynamics — the effect on the body — and its pharmacokinetics — or how the body affects it. This study contributed to Namisol’s development. Its creators made Namisol in response to data showing THC’s ability to relieve multiple sclerosis symptoms and other issues.
The team worked with six women and six men who had previously used cannabis and administered crushed Namisol, a Namisol tablet or a placebo to the subjects. Since this study focused on how the drug worked, they looked at the way Namisol affected their vital signs and functioning.
The participants tolerated both forms of Namisol well. They reached the highest amount of blood concentration within an hour and provided maximum effects about one to two hours after administration. The patients felt slight impairment after taking the medicine, but nothing to warrant concern. Klumpers et al. concluded future research should examine clinical effects.
If you think medical marijuana could supplement or replace your current medication, do your research and join a medical cannabis program. Check out our condition guide for spinocerebellar ataxia to get an idea of how marijuana can help.
Ready to get started? Schedule an appointment with a marijuana-trained physician today.